I don’t like self-denial!

” . . . the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” – Psalm 84:11b

I don’t like self-denial. It may relate to how I use time, spend money, or express opinions, but most of the time I want to have what I want, when I want it.

So when I read Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), I cringed inside. I wanted to follow Him, but daily self-denial just sounded hard.

Then I read John Piper’s teaching in his book Desiring God, and my view about self-denial began to change dramatically.  According to Piper, the biblical concept of self-denial is letting go of the lesser good so we can grab onto the greater good. When I started to look at it that way, I realized Jesus’ demand for self-denial was for my benefit, not His! I understood that I deny myself, not to make Him happy with me, but to allow Him to do greater things with me. Greater than I can do if I follow my natural instincts.

It makes sense in other areas of life: I choose to workout, denying myself an hour on the couch, because I value health more than rest. I deny myself a frivolous expense because I am saving for something really special later. Spiritually, it makes sense, too. We deny ourselves what we want humanly so we can receive what God wants for us supernaturally – things that are better for us than whatever we give up. Maybe it’s not self-denial at all!

 “To become like Christ is the only thing in the world worth caring for, the thing before which every ambition is folly, and all lower achievements vain.” – Henry Drummond

 

 

Is my way the right way?

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty.” – Psalm 91:1

Sometimes when I pray, I know how I want God to answer. So I’m specific and, honestly, any answer other than the one I’m praying for will not be acceptable to me. Do you ever do that? We sometimes forget that God’s perspective is better than ours! He knows things we cannot possibly know.

Centuries ago, people asked Jeremiah to pray for God’s direction about their going to Egypt. Jeremiah gave them God’s answer: They should stay in Israel where He would keep them safe. Their response? They call Jeremiah a liar! The problem was they were already packed to go before they asked Jeremiah to find out what God wanted. There was only one answer acceptable to them and they weren’t hearing it from Jeremiah, so they were angry. What they didn’t know was Babylon was on the move and soon would war with Egypt and the refugee Israelis would get caught in the crossfire. They could not see at all what God could see clearly.

Sometimes we struggle with giving control to God, trusting His direction. When we pray about a problem and we know what we want the answer to be, we would be wise to tell God that, though we desire to have our prayer answered our way, we are willing to accept His answer, whatever it is. That’s a safe prayer because

  • He sees what we cannot see,
  • His answers are always for our best good, and
  • He walks beside us when we’re willing to go His way.

“What I think and feel as I pray, rather than the words I speak, may be the real prayer, for God ‘hears’ that too.” – Philip Yancey

There’s a better way.

“. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:14

How are you doing on your quest for perfection? Have you overcome that bad habit? Are your praying enough? Are your relationships in order? Are you eating only healthy foods? Do you do enough to help those in need?

Stop! There’s a better way.

Over many years, I’ve learned that, in spite of almost-heroic efforts, I’m not able to perfect myself. That will come as no surprise to those of you who know me! Along the way, though, God reminds me He’s the one who brought me into His family in the first place. He’s the one slowly changing my character to reflect His. Transformation is His work, not mine. My job is to relate to Him: talking, listening, learning, cooperating, submitting. That’s what He expects of you, too. When we do that, His message back to us is something like this:

When I called you, I knew who you would become. I also knew the mistakes you would make along the way – sinfulness, rebellion, bad habits, weaknesses. I never expected you to be perfect, so stop believing you can be. And never forget that My love for you does not depend on you. I love you just because you are Mine – even on your worst days.

God looks on His children with merciful eyes. We are weaker than we want to be. We will fail. When we do, He responds to our cry for forgiveness, cleans us up, and sets us back on the path. He will make us holy, but it’s going to take awhile yet!

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

Can you trust the Bible?

Just a note to let you know I updated my website, Walking Together on Holy Ground, to include a page titled Bible Quandaries.

In that space, I respond to questions about the Bible that many people have posed through the years. I have posted five new questions/answers today and will add to the page from time to time. Check it out if you have questions or are being asked questions by others about the Bible, its teaching on various current subjects, its relationship to science/history, and its authenticity. All content is excerpted from newest book, The Bible for Skeptics: A Conversation for Thinking People.

 

 

 

Is it true?

“I have chosen the way of truth;” – Psalm 119:30

I read a Facebook post predicting record snowfalls for the entire Midwest this year, with snow beginning as early as September. The impressive weather map showed that we’d have five to ten times the amount of snow we had last year. Just as I was thinking of stocking the pantry, I started reading the comments and realized the article was a hoax. I was feeling anxiety over something that wasn’t even true!

Are you as tired as I am of listening to things we know are lies or exaggerations? I want to know truth – about my health, the world, family, food, finances, and everything else. Not knowing is worse than knowing, even if the truth is hard to hear.

When we take it into the spiritual realm, the stakes are even higher. My spiritual well-being is of eternal importance. I don’t want to risk getting it wrong and I don’t think you do, either! There are three areas I see in which we can discover spiritual truth:

Truth as knowledge: We pursue this truth when we learn, understand, take in new thoughts, and weigh them against what we already know, being willing to adjust our thinking as we learn more.

Truth as experience: This is when we test truth in the laboratory of life. Does it work? Does it last? Does it transform?

Truth as relationship: Whether we realize it or not, our ultimate longing is to know Jesus, the Truth. Every other truth pursuit fits into and finds culmination in our relationship with Him.

Let’s find what is true and trustworthy and discard what is false and misleading. Truth matters!

“Truth is not everything, but without it, nothing goes right.” – Dallas Willard

 

Intersections

“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16

A few years ago, Tim Elmore posted a blog about helping today’s students find purpose in life beyond what they see in movies. He cited surveys showing students’ primary goals were becoming famous and/or rich. Elmore questioned such aspirations and suggested we should help young people find something truly worth living for, saying, “Real purpose emerges when our strengths intersect with the world’s great need.”*

Maybe that’s something we should consider, too. As we look around, we realize there are huge needs in our neighborhoods and around the world: hunger, homelessness, war, disease, loneliness, lack of opportunity, mental illness, personal conflicts, and under-education. Which of these problems has God given us strengths, skills, or insights to help solve?

Then, as Christians, we know every person’s greatest need is relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. How much of our lives are consumed with responding to that need? I sense that the more of ourselves we give to introducing people to the One who can meet the deepest longings of their hearts, the more meaningful and satisfying our own lives will be.

We pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” What are you and I doing to help accomplish God’s will in our world? Maybe today we could ask Him where our strengths intersect with the great or small needs He is showing us. When we begin to serve others in God’s ways, we find another truth: When our obedience intersects with God’s purpose, joy happens!

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”  – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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*Tim Elmore at growingleaders.com, November 6, 2013.

Still Waiting

“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” – Psalm 25:4-5

Do you feel like you’re at a standstill right now? No wind in your sails? No sense of direction? Not sure what’s next? There are waiting times for all of us. Times when we are trying to trust God even when He doesn’t seem to be doing anything to give us a sense of His presence or will.

Don’t worry. His silence doesn’t mean He has withdrawn. Most likely He’s waiting for the timing to be right before He acts. The direction He wants to give may be dependent on many threads coming together at the right time – other people, our heart readiness, general conditions around us. His working always includes things we cannot see, so we wait until He is ready to move, to direct us, or to change circumstances.

In the creation account, we read that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. While He hovered, the waters waited in the darkness – maybe for a very long time. Then, when He was ready, God called for creation and the earth and seas exploded with light, life, color, and glory. When the waiting was over, everything changed – radically!

The Spirit hovers over us, too. We need to quiet our souls. Rest. Trust. Allow Him to work where we cannot see, believing He is doing what is best for us, and knowing He will bring about what He desires when the time is right. It will be good!

“I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.” – C. S. Lewis